“’Hi Grandma’,” Kitty remembers hearing when she picked up the phone one day in January. “And I said, ‘Billy, hi how are you.'”
What started as a seemingly innocent phone call turned into an elaborate story, leading Kitty, a Phoenix resident who didn't want to give her last name, to think her grandson was in jail and needed money right away.
“’I'm calling you because I know you can keep a secret and I don’t want the rest of the family to know,'” said Kitty, recalling what she heard on the phone.
But it wasn’t her grandson. It was a scammer, pretending to be her grandson.
Kitty was in a panic thinking her grandson was in trouble and needed money wired right away to the Dominican Republic.
“I was helping my grandson,” said Kitty. “I truly love my grandson. I would do anything for my family.”
It’s a common scam.
Most businesses have procedures in place to recognize the signs.
In Kitty’s case, four different businesses stopped her from wiring that money, telling her it was against their policy. She eventually went to the Walmart at 4747 Cactus in Phoenix.
She says the employees there allowed her to wire thousands of dollars to the Dominican Republic, no questions asked.
“They just went ahead and took my money, smooth as can be,” she said. “They didn’t say anything.”
She went back to that same location three days in a row, wiring a total of $5,250, before finally realizing it was a scam.
Once Kitty’s family found out what had been going on, they were outraged the employees at Walmart had allowed Kitty to send so much money overseas. In their minds, surely one of them should have recognized the red flags.
“A little old lady, sending thousands of dollars, consecutive days to a foreign country,” said Kim Ludwig, Kitty’s daughter.
Kim says, she didn’t want her mom’s money back, but she did want some answers about how this had happened. When she tried to get more information from Walmart, she says employees there gave her the runaround.
Call 12 for Action reached out to Walmart about their security protocols for customers wiring money overseas.
A spokesperson told us, in part: “Consumer fraud is common to all retailers, even with great fraud prevention practices in place. We have many examples of our associates helping customers avoid scam transfers.”
The spokesperson then went on to list some of Walmart’s in-store training and education measures to help prevent consumer fraud:
- All associates who work in the Money Center have to complete training on fraud prevention.
- Walmart posts visible signs in the Money Center alerting customers about the risk of fraud.
- Brochures with detailed information about money transfer scams and tips for the customers’ protection are available in the Money Center.
- The forms required to order wire transfers contain consumer fraud alerts on the first page.
The Walmart spokesperson also added, “The safety and privacy of our customers is a top priority, and we empathize with any customer who has been scammed. Walmart launched an internal investigation regarding this issue and found our associates followed proper procedure.”
“It really does come down to corporate responsibility, having those policies and procedures,” said Mike O'Shaughnessy, President of Guardian Pro, a security consulting company “But it’s also a great deal of individual responsibility. It’s sort of a combination, really.”
He says, to protect yourself as a consumer, there are two things you should do:
- Don’t react quickly.
- Verify what you’re hearing.
“These scams aren’t going to go away,” said O'Shaughnessy. “They’re going to get worse. They’re going to evolve. This grandparent scam has evolved over time. It’s going to continue to evolve. It’s us being aware. It really is. It comes down to people.”
Kim Ludwig is grateful to the businesses who tried to stop her mom from losing so much money. They hope, by speaking out as a family, other families will hear about this scam and won’t be fooled.